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On the mornings of Friday, April 19 and Thursday, April 25, we will have several field trips on site. Please anticipate large groups and a busier campus!

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A Tale of Storms, Trees, and Climate Change at CuriOdyssey

By Dr. Kate Sulzner, Director of Conservation and Animal Health

It has become unmistakably clear over the past decade that climate change, biodiversity loss, and global pandemics comprise the biggest challenges we face today. These three interconnected issues impact all life on earth. If humans continue to undervalue nature in favor of short-term gains, we are set to venture beyond the point of climate mitigation over the next decade. In Northern California, we experienced a brutal awakening this winter, ravaged by a serial onslaught of atmospheric river storms. These storms are a vivid reminder that climate change is happening in our backyards, with real consequences.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report on March 20th (IPCC A26 Report) that painted a bleak picture of what lies ahead unless we advocate for a massive shift away from fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) toward green energy by 2030, along with a more equitable and sustainable distribution of resources. At present, human activities are responsible for what scientists call the sixth mass extinction, which is projected to wipe out 75% of species on earth. A further consequence of nature’s breakdown is an uptick in global pandemics, made all too real when Covid-19 emerged in 2020. The injustice that underlies our ailing planet is that it’s typically the poorest, most vulnerable communities, with the smallest carbon footprint, that carry a disproportionate burden of climate change impacts. 

Human-driven environmental and climate change have also resulted in a dramatic rise in the intensity and frequency of storms, floods, and droughts. Recent scientific reports have demonstrated the link between rising temperatures and the increasing severity of atmospheric rivers like the ones we’ve experienced this winter throughout California. Warmer atmospheres allow for water vapor to linger in the air in greater amounts, which then leads to heavier rainfall, and with it, greater destruction.

CuriOdyssey has been hit especially hard by the unrelenting cycle of storms this season. Situated on a forested bluff in Coyote Point Park, draped in a eucalyptus tree grove, CuriOdyssey is uniquely vulnerable to the rise in storm intensity. The eucalyptus trees do little to buffer CuriOdyssey from offshore winds. In fact, they have proven more harmful than good. While aesthetically pleasing, eucalyptus trees are not endemic to California, and with that comes problems. The combination of shallow root systems and top-heavy canopies make eucalyptus trees susceptible to falling during high wind and rain events. Furthermore, during droughts, the oil that the trees produce turns them into virtual cinder boxes, making them extremely flammable. Since January, more than seventy trees have fallen in Coyote Point Park. This collective treefall has caused power outages, damage to buildings, human and animal safety risks, and resulted in intermittent closures and disruption of programs. 

In spite of nature’s reckoning this winter, there is cause for hope in the midst of mounting climate challenges. Most notable is the assurance that green technology already exists to radically transform the planet. We just need to elicit a massive overhaul in human behavior and invest in regenerative solutions to restore nature-human balance. This pivot point is also an opportunity to create a more equitable world while this green reshaping is underway, one in which all communities and voices have a seat at the table as we pave the path forward.

For our part at CuriOdyssey, we are reimagining a more resilient ecosystem and landscape, marked by drought-resistant native plants and flourishing biodiversity, and we are a proud San Mateo County certified green business. On our program side, our new Eco Explorers summer camp will help rising fifth and sixth graders explore the intersection of local ecology, design thinking, and conservation through the plants and animals at CuriOdyssey and Coyote Point Recreational Area. As an organization, we are eager to contribute to a values system that harnesses curiosity, learning, and technology as tools to strengthen nature, social justice, and our connection to wild spaces–and more critically, to share this vision with our community and with the children who will become our planet’s custodians in the years to come.

Blog post author Kate Sulzner stands next to one of the fallen trees at CuriOdyssey: a harbinger of climate change.
The author with one of the fallen trees near CuriOdyssey: A harbinger of climate change and a call to action for a brighter future.

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LOCATION

1651 Coyote Point Drive
San Mateo, CA 94401
Ohlone Land Acknowledgement
650-342-7755
[email protected]

CuriOdyssey is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Tax ID 94-1262434

Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The gold standard for animal care and welfare.
ASTC Member. Association of Science and Technology Centers.
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